The death of the Mastering Engineer

Discussion in 'Mastering' started by audiokid, May 22, 2014.

  1. audiokid

    audiokid Staff

    Am I sarcastic or for real? Well, I'm definitely really bend out of shape and wondering where all you Mastering Engineers are headed after the last post about how you all think gear doesn't matter....
    So, this post is intended to create a ruckus and kick a few of you into gear lol!

    Why would I pay for your Mastering service when a kid with perfect hearing ( better than mine) can do this for $10 bucks a song on some laptop and a digital limiter?
    And what about automated mastering, is it coming? Is this going to be part of itunes and other online publishing venues. I think its right around the corner!
    I have done tests and never thought I would say this but an MP3 through Sequoia 12 sounds very modern. That is, because its coming right after some Pulse Pultecs, and some nice analog processing...
    The MP3 process does something to the master that my kids like and I must admit, I too, like what I'm hearing now. I'm experimenting more with the mixing process leading up to the MP3 Master. If you got the same results, wouldn't you be thrilled?

    But, is that because I'm mastering with a fine rack of analog gear? What if my client has a really wimpy mix and i could say, hey, do you have any stems of this, I got some nice analog EQ's here. Want to try?

    What if my mixes are so good already, all I need to do is run them through a limiter/ leveler and its done, processed for publishing, free and part of the finishing process?
    Is this just around the corner?
    Is this kind of process going to be part of your DAW? Isn't it already?
    I mean, this is all I really do with my mixes now! But, I'm using Sequoia 12. Would you get the same result with another DAW or another mix that wasn't using the same "gear" workflow etc I am using? Does gear or the products you use matter?

    What if we all mixed "good enough", so all we needed was a drive through process that finished the audio as required?
    Do we really need that second set of ears? What if the second set of ears was a process that was part of the online playback system?
    Tweak your mixes, upload the track and if you like it, save. Simple as that.
    Yes, thats all I do right now :)

    From what I'm hearing down stream, "Mastering" has become a process that requires minute financial investment.. All you need is a brain and ears and the fundamental / basic understanding of your playback devices and you are off to the races.. right? Can you master better than me because you are smarter and have better hearing than me?
    What makes the better mastering engineers "today"? I just have to hear it to believe it.I want a mastering shootout in the worst way here!

    I know my kids hear better than me and most people past 35 years old. My kids are happy to do this for free, and they can.. I get my kids to check my high freq all the time. Its the highs I have the most difficulty over. How about you?
    But, I've discovered my converters love filters prior to mastering, they seem to react better, thus, a more balanced and smoother finish.

    Is it a facade we need $8,000 monitors and a million dollar room to master music?

  2. DonnyThompson

    DonnyThompson Distinguished Member

    I don't think that Bob Ludwig and Bernie Grundmann are doing this on the cheap. ;)

    The advances in technology has brought the POSSIBILITY of "everyman" doing things that one used to have to pay big money for...and not just with audio, either.

    I wonder how professional graphic artists are doing these days? Or photographers?

    My bet is that the respective professionals in other fields are feeling the pinch as well. After all, why hire a pro photog to shoot your wedding when everyone has a mega pixel camera right on their cell phone? Why hire a graphic artist when a couple bucks buys you PhotoShop and a slew of filters?

    Except that those in the know... people like you and me - know very well that that lower consumer grade gear is NOT of professional grade. People have a DIY mentality because technology has made some tools available to them that didn't used to be available to the common man. But ...that doesn't mean that it's a form of technology that is truly of a professional grade. Add to this the general lack of professional knowledge and experience, and you have exactly what you'd pay for in terms of quality and worth.

    I've said it before, I'll say it again: I'm a solid recording and mix engineer. I am NOT an ME - and have never claimed to be. I don't have the gear, I don't have the room, and while I know plenty about audio, I really don't know the ins and outs of mastering... and contrary to current mindsets, I don't believe that mastering can be reduced to simply making things loud. Tonality, Imaging, Gain Reduction, Translation, Phase, and ultimately preparing that mix for wherever it will be used, and CHOOSING THE RIGHT ORDER OF SONGS - is what mastering is about. You can't do that with PT and a Waves L2 plug alone... I don't care who you are.

    Guys like Ludwig and his peers have the gear that they have because they use it, they want it, and they need it to do their job(s) the best that they can. I doubt very highly that they spent upwards of a half million in gear and acoustical treatment and construction just because they thought it was "cool". There is a purpose for everything that they have. Obviously, it hasn't led them astray, either.. because they are the "standards" in professional Mastering.

    In the current state of affairs involving cheap "mastering" facilities, I don't believe that this is a fight that can be won. People who don't know - or worse, even care - about anything other than LOUD will always seek the cheapest place in order to get that done. All we can do is to personally support those facilities that are real, that are bona fide mastering facilities... but, I can't control what the guy down the street is doing. ;)

    IMHO of course.


  3. pcrecord

    pcrecord Don't you want the best recording like I do ? Well-Known Member

    I don't think the mastering craft will die. But if it does, we'll blame it on youtube and 5$ earbuds. ;)
    One of my last customers (a western/punk band, yes a very special mix) went for mixing with some big name and mastering with the guy that did Arcade Fire. Not because they didn't trust me. Because names sells !! If bands want to sell big time, they need seriouness in the process of recording specially for the first album.

    All the consumer gear, is great if you want to be known. Demos every day, gig all the time and one day you'll get noticed !
    But hey Donald K Donald won't ask me to master my mix, they will ask a big name because of the trust, reputation and of course the gear choice.

    So gear is irrelevant to make music but it is very important to make it sound right !! (just my thoughts)
  4. Gette

    Gette Active Member

    takin a break from solder fumes….. and I see this. Well, Howie Weinberg has an app for that! Really, look it up on the Appstore. seriously though…

    Mastering today is a ghost art. I call it that because no matter who you ask, even a mastering engineer, you will get a deferent answer as to what exactly they do.

    In the beginning: the mastering/dubbing engineer simply transferred tape to vinyl. He would make eq adjustments only as needed to make sure the track will fit. (more low end in a track, the wider the track would be, using more physical space on the disk). He was not there for creative purposes or to fine tune anything, just get it on the disk and make it sound as close as possible to what was mixed down to tape.

    Some how over the years, it has become an art and one that is feared, where no one dares to tread. I would say, that the ME's of yesterday have successfully
    controlled the image of their title and the truth of what they actually do. I will not say they are not worth what they earn or even undeserving of the accolades presented them. However, all the fear is unwarranted. If you can mix, you can master. It comes down to taste, all the mastering engineer is doing is adding light compression and eq adjustments that highlight parts that he felt needed to be brought forward or backward in the mix. instead of working on a console, sweeting for days, he is done in 20min. Those who are successful, was due to the way they remixed a song based on frequency and dynamics versus individually (IE Kick, Snare,HH. etc..). The mega rooms are for personnel preference and to justify the price. Would you buy a Ferrari at a buy here pay here lot? I think not, likewise, would you pay 5K to have some one master your song in a basement or on a set of headphones and laptop? Nope. It has more to do with perception then actual product produced. How many people will be listening to the material on 100k+ monitoring systems in rooms that are acoustically perfect? As a mix engineer, we strive to create a room not much deferent then a mastering engineer, but in the end, it is that walk out to the car with a thumb drive/CD that will truly judge our mix. The most important aspect about a song, is the song, then how it is recorded and finally how it is mixed. If it was mixed improperly then a mastering engineer will look like a majestic mystical creature of good tidings. If it was mixed properly but not leveled, well, all things sound better louder. If mixed and leveled properly, the mastering will be extremely subtle.

    So, to master or to not, is entirely up to you as an engineer/artist. Will it be worth it? that is subjective and relative.

  5. Thomas W. Bethel

    Thomas W. Bethel Well-Known Member

    When I started at WVIZ-TV (PBS Cleveland, OH) as an audio engineer in 1969 they had 22 broadcast engineers, now they have 6. Soon WVIZ-TV will be doing away with all 5 of their master control operators because their master control will be "automated" and run from somewhere else along with a lot of other PBS stations. As automation and the DIY revolution continues to make in roads into the audio and video areas the need for hiring people/professionals, such as people on this forum, is going the way of the Dodo bird. I now know how the buggy whip and carriage wheel manufactures felt when the automobile came along and took all their business away.

    I know things change but this is not a change for the good it is just the computer and DIYers taking away jobs and the end results are not good or professional sounding. Because a lot of the current generation of students think that everything they do is GREAT they never notice that much of their current output sounds or looks like doggie do do. I get demo reels from the local college students when they apply here for a job and most of them are CRAP. The videos are all dark and hand held and look like something a beginner 7th grader would do. If you say anything about the quality of what they are doing they will say "but that is the way I want it to look" "it is suppose to be cinema verita" which IMHO is a BIG cop out because they really don't know what they are doing and this gets them to do what ever they want and call it "art".

    More and more things are being done by the "computer" and pretty soon places like Detroit will be nothing but robots building cars. It is a good move for the companies because robots don't get sick, never need vacations or bathroom breaks, don't want or need raises and they can work 24/7 without complaining. So after you lay off all your employees and your bottom line goes way up you realize that these same people you laid off can no longer buy your cars and/or find other jobs where they can make enough money to afford a new car. Of course robots don't buy the Japanese found out in the late 70's and early 80's when they were thinking about automating their factories and suddenly realized this important fact.

    Today everything is about making money and things like quality and professional results are going to the back of the line. It is becoming more and more a "WalMart" world where you get something for practically nothing. Mastering for $5.00 a track may sound enticing to someone who needs mastering but what are they getting for the $5.00??? Some fourteen year old kid with a bunch of cracked plugins and a pair of computer speakers doing the mastering in their bedrooms. Or someone with a TC Finalizer putting all the tracks through the built in presets??? This is NOT by any stretch of the imagination MASTERING. But if that is what people want then they get exactly what they did not pay for.

    I wonder what the generation of audio and or video students that are just graduating are going to do for jobs when there are less and less places to work and less and less money to be made from doing anything audio or video.

    Oh well I am getting older and maybe I am not thinking the way I should.
  6. pcrecord

    pcrecord Don't you want the best recording like I do ? Well-Known Member

    I get you Thomas, money is what they want but they can squeeze a lemon all they want, when it tastes nothing like a lemon, I won't buy it. I wonder when TV stations will use fixed focus camera and put an X on the floor for the news man to stand on !! They're you go : static TV ! They already put so much youtube video on air, imagine if they all switch to powerpoint slides :rolleyes:

    But I still have hope that some exceptional persons won't accept mediocrity and keep the word quality alive. (I'm a dreamer) !!
  7. pcrecord

    pcrecord Don't you want the best recording like I do ? Well-Known Member

    We should put a nice neve console, a good collection of preamps and other gear in a time capsule. In 100 years, when nobody remembers how true music sound, they'll open it, read the instructions (if they still can read) and they will live the rebirth of audio recording !! Since it'll be different and unique, our grand sons and daughter could make millions !! ;)
  8. Thomas W. Bethel

    Thomas W. Bethel Well-Known Member

    TV station newscast are already automated with Robocams that are controlled in the control room and there is no need for the TV camera operator anymore. All the talent does is stand on the "X" and someone manipulates the camera/tripod or it is computer controlled and no one has to touch it as it glides seamlessly across the floor and onto its next programmed position. My best friend does video for a lot of sports teams. He has the best eyes in the world when it comes to color matching and pulling the best out of the cameras. He told me recently that there is a push by the major TV networks to put in "automated" color and video correction units so they don't have to pay a human to do this anymore.

    My intern does beautiful animations by hand. He is telling me that there are programs that will take a character and all you have to do is the first and last position and the computer will intelligently do in intervening steps. The graceful art of the animator as we now know it will be a thing of the past in a couple of years.

    I can see the day fairly soon when McDonalds is all computer operated and the only persons they will need will be the person at the drive in window and at the counter and all food will be made by intelligent robots. It really isn't too far off. The technology exists today. When this happens I am wondering where all the high school students will find jobs.

    Computers are the wave of the future and with them taking over a lot of the jobs people now do people will have to find some other way of making a living and that is somewhat difficult when more and more stuff is being done by computers and robots.

    Not a good outlook for people who are doing technology related jobs...

    Sorry to go a bit off topic but I think you get the idea that things in all fields are changing on a daily basis and not necessarily for the better. In mastering there is now an online system called LANDR which will master your tracks for free all you have to do is put your file up and the program will master it. This is even going to give the $5.00 per track people a wake up call. Whats next someone paying you to get your stuff mastered???

    Have fun!
    bigtree likes this.
  9. pcrecord

    pcrecord Don't you want the best recording like I do ? Well-Known Member

    Oh, I didn't know for the cams...o_O
  10. audiokid

    audiokid Staff


    Would you be willing to do a comparison between a track processed through LANDR and you?
  11. audiokid

    audiokid Staff

    It appears the ears and brains are the first thing to be replaced. Glad I bought gear lol! See, gear is without question, more important than brains. It cost money to get gear, brains are free. ROTF. I had no idea. It pointed to
    I signed up.
    An awkward website for info but the online mastering seems slick
    Lets put this to the test sooner than later.
    I'm not an ME but will post an A/B of something I master and what this does in comparison. Might as well find out what we're up against. I just have to find out what this will add to my analog matrix. :coffee:
    I have to admit, I would love to do a mix and then run it through a process that polished whats left.

    Looks like a Canadian Company based in Montreal.
    Read this:

    Lauren, are you familiar with this company or method? How is it different from what you are doing? What do you think?
  12. kmetal

    kmetal Kyle P. Gushue Well-Known Member

    The thing is, I've never sent my tracks to a pro, so I can't really say. The only guy i know who has worked w Ted Jensen, and bob Ludwig, was doing commercial work, for labels in the heyday.

    Anybody who says gear doesn't matter, doesn't have enough, or hasn't ever used the real thing. Is it the end all, the only thing you need, no. But I bet if I mixed a song the same way using, emulations, and the real thing, I bet I would pick the real thing 8 outa ten times.

    Honestly I would pitch In on an experiment, where we all took a good mix, and did whatever we do to master it, but send one copy to a highly paid name brand ME, and compare. Not a contest, just to hear what, how our takes on mastering are. To show what. Real high end mastering engineer would do. Or not do.

    Aren't the best recordings the ones that need the least mixing, and the best mix the one that needs no corrective mastering? People are forgetting that goal.

    I'm not trying to say Im Good or anything but if you some demos I've done in a few hours at the studio, against the yearlong drawn out, 50x more expensive, most average people would say they are both good. Not because I'm that good, because they just don't know, and you bring elements.

    So, where I'm going is that we are all on the same gear, in this case, and no matter how good, the engineer is, it always has that tinge, of not quite big budget, not quite that pop commercial sound. It alludes to it, and in some cases pretty close, but just not the same. I guess I'm biased cuz I'm never completely happy w my work. I mean how many bands breakthrough albums are done at the small commercial studio level, them next thing you know there at ocean way, and they have that commercial machine sounding album. In some cases it better, others it's not. One of my current mix requests, was "don't make it too clean" which is cool I hate overly sterile sounds, so I was messing around for fun w it just doing whatever I would do if it was my project, and as made things clearer, the sloppiness becme more apparent, so it's like what's actually sounding better? For the song, it's hide the slop and keep it nasty on this one.

    I'm not making this up, but we all obviously compare our favore records sonically, and more I've my favorite and best sounding records came from stearling sound, particularly ted Jensen and more often guy Marino (rip). It's be a coincidence, if it was once or twice, or genere, popularity, or even budget, I'm talking indie label records and majors. Is it night and day no, but there is that "thing" that makes them a little better.

    So they were in different eras, and studios, but the common thread was those guys and those studios. To me it's like how I'm liked man this is a good song, or there is something interesting in this, and I find out Rick Rubin produced.

    It's easy for mastering engineers to defend there job, if they wanna work. And it's easy for someone w an mbox to "masterize" their own stuff. Ever get asked if you can do masterizing? I have quite a few times lol.

    Ya know I'm not too upset about meanial jobs being automated, in fact I think it would improve the quality of their product. It sucks when your talk art, because it's personal, but the end user doesn't care. And really maybe machines are better at some of that. I'm not at all sad to see menial tasks become automated, it's creative jobs I'm sad to see go.

    But in reality, a lot of the people who would rather go to a bedroom instead of my places, probably are gonna come in for that same hour, rip 1 take and have me edit it, then wonder why my expensive gear didn't make them sound twice as good, even tho it's twice the price.

    I mean anybody who can earn a living wage of this is lucky, very lucky. It's just there was a point where it peaked. Twiddling knows and faders isn't über technical, the engineers are the people making the gear it takes to do that.

    I wonder how many people are goona throw the tablet their recording on at the wall when Siri says "that was awesome, let's do it again"

    Ya know I blame partially, the schools, but still how many people who went to college work in their major. Prob not a high percentage. I don't think a lot of the kids really expect to be engineers, it's just a cool place to go before ya hit the real world. I know it was different 20-30 years ago, where college brought you somewhere, but it's watered down and a business. Try being considered for a position w out a masters degree and a doctorate. Not gonna happen. I know people who will owe student loans for the rest of their life.

    It's not surprising to me that the most mysterious part of the record production, is fading first. The next question, is it the tracking or the mixing engineer that's gonna fall next.
  13. audiokid

    audiokid Staff

    neither of those because there are way too many creative variable.
  14. Thomas W. Bethel

    Thomas W. Bethel Well-Known Member

    They use to say that same thing about mastering... Nothing today is off limits. Who knows what is right around the corner...there maybe some software engineer who is working on a program to do automated mixdowns. Look what Garage Band did for song writers. A few years ago that program would have been nothing but a dream. Now it is on every Mac computer. I have learned to never say never...
  15. DonnyThompson

    DonnyThompson Distinguished Member

    "Ever get asked if you can do masterizing? I have quite a few times lol."

    Just recently, in fact. I corrected the client on the term.... of course he meant "mastering". And I'm gonna do it, because the situation leaves me little choice, but I'm gonna be very honest and up front and say that I REALLY don't want to.

    Anyone want to guess why I'm so hesitant about it?
  16. bouldersound

    bouldersound Real guitars are for old people. Well-Known Member

    Well, maybe pretty soon listening to and buying music will be automated and then the circuit will be complete, entirely removing human interference.

    BTW, I have to admit that better tools have made my work better, even if it's ITB. The bx_digital V2 was quite nice to use, and the Slate FG-X is a step or two up from other mastering processors I've used. I'm no mastering engineer but have been drafted into filling that role as those I work with think I'm their best option for some jobs. Other jobs go out to a proper mastering house, which is as it should be. Horses for courses and all...
  17. audiokid

    audiokid Staff

    Never with any realism.

    I can imagine automated mixing for simple solutions but once we get into complex sound design, what mixing is really where I take it, nothing could replace what I do via automation.
    I suppose something could be coded into a "learn function" that studies a particular instrument, then eq's it based around other variables?
    I doubt it ever becoming successful with the current music. Maybe we create a new style of music, where the music is randomly created like bingo balls dropping down or a slot machine getting pulled. Pull the lever, save your "masterpiece" and smile proudly , exclaiming, listen to my song lol!

    Mastering on the other hand, its seems logical for something to analogize the sum and shape it to a standard Jazz, Pop, Classical, House etc. algorithm.

    Automated recording and mixing... on a pro level... I don't think so...
  18. DonnyThompson

    DonnyThompson Distinguished Member

    "I suppose could see some "learn function" that becomes part of a mixdown process bulit into a template I suppose. Possibly like automated mastering per track, where something analyzed a track freq and A/B the pair with another, then another and so on."

    My bet is that at some point, technology will present a piece of software which will attempt do just that - analyze a particular mix, extract the various parameters - EQ, GR, etc., and then emulate a "template" based on the data gathered... But... that doesn't mean it will actually work, at least to a satisfactory or acceptable degree. The first detriment is the gear - or, rather, the lack thereof.

    Let's assume for a second that this code allows for extraction of particular data, like gain reduction for example... so the app analyzes the song you tell it to, and it comes back with "4:1 compression/-13db Thresh/20ms Attack, 188 ms Release.... at which point, it either inserts for you, or it tells you to insert a compressor at these settings, but, it or you can only insert what you have available so....... what? A sonitus or waves compressor? Or, it suggests that you use an LA2 at 20db in and a reduction of 25db... except you don't actually have an LA2. Now what?

    For example, let's say that I decide to have this software analyze one of my favorite sounding records of all time -Steely Dan's Deacon Blues.

    I want to emulate the sonics of that piece, so I load it into the software in the hopes that I can then apply those various parameters to my own mix. Unfortunately, that certainly doesn't mean that my album is going to end up anywhere near as sonically good as Aja.

    Why? Many reasons...because without having Roger Nichols at the helm of a Harrison console that I don't have, and not being in the room where they tracked and mixed, and not having all the the gear that Nichols and Gary Katz had at their disposal while they were tracking and mixing that record... nor do I have Bernard Purdie on drums, Larry Carlton on guitar or Chuck Rainey on bass, either, so then everything is just a " suggested formula" based on a theory that's based on a code that's based on the talent of the original guy who wrote the code...

    Or, maybe it has the "suggested" processing built right into the prog. But, it's still just using an emulation of the real thing, and, we're back to the ongoing debate over whether using multiple VST's on a track is really that good of an idea anymore.

    Call me dubious, call me skeptical, just don't call me late for dinner....
  19. audiokid

    audiokid Staff

    Donny... (y) yup, thats what I meant to say lol! :LOL:
  20. DonnyThompson

    DonnyThompson Distinguished Member

    Before this thread is put out to pasture, I'd like to make one more observation...

    I've always been puzzled by the lack of mastering examples posted here; and have often wondered why some of our resident ME's haven't posted pre/post examples of their work.

    I'm not talking about any of them doing any freebies, I'm just saying that it might help them get a few clients here and there if they could show what it is they can do.

    Maybe post two versions of 30 seconds of audio: the original 2 mix they received, and then, a post a version showing what they had done to it, and maybe explain a little bit about how they approached it, what they heard that they felt needed altering, and why.

    People like Chris, Myself, and many other members here have periodically posted work here that we've done; for perusal, critique, comment, to show one type of processing over another, examples of certain mics, EQ's, etc., and to spark conversation, questions and intelligent debate.

    Is there something that has prevented our resident ME's from doing so? Is it that their clients wouldn't authorize it? I'm not breaking balls here guys... I'm sincerely curious.

    IMHO of course.


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